A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Review of Sarasota Observer Editorial on Palm Avenue Palms



+ Misplaced priorities
 We had to love the comments of Sarasota entrepreneur Dr. Mark Kauffman about the palms on Palm.These are the 26 palm trees that were slated for removal two years ago but won a reprieve last week, thanks to the T-huggers.

Said Kauffman: “I tried to count the number of orange trees on Orange Avenue, lemon trees on Lemon Avenue. There are no hills on Hillview Street, no mounds on Mound Street. I couldn’t find any coconuts (on Cocoanut Avenue) — I couldn’t find any of those things.”Kauffman (who should know better because of his general commitment to Sarasota history) is making fun of one of Sarasota's shameful secrets -- the "mounds" that were on Mound Street were important archaeological sites, remnants of Sarasota's first bayfront residents that were callously destroyed for road base because they were handy and no one cared about that pre-colonial legacy. This is roughly comparable to quipping that he didn't see any Indians at Indian Beach -- there's a reason for that and its nothing to be proud of.

And he's simply wrong about no coconuts on Cocoanut. Mark Famiglio made a point of planting some at the FSU College of Medicine. 

Of all the plant-based names selected for downtown streets, the only street to have significant numbers of namesake plants installed appears to have been Palm Avenue. We can make a joke out of that, or choose to respect the decision of our city's founders.
Three cocoanut trees Dr. Kauffman apparently couldn't find on Coconut.

That was Dr. Kauffman’s way of saying diplomatically: Once again, the Sarasota city commissioners caved. They didn't cave -- they received new information that no one bothered to research previously and drew a different conclusion. Heaven help us if we end up with a Commission that can't change course in the wake of new information.

They went one way two years ago, approving the removal of the trees for a new landscaping scheme in sync with the landscaping the city installed on the other side of the street. Yes, two years ago they voted to match (or "mirror") the landscaping of a parking garage. This was apparently viewed as the best the City could do, even though it was contrary to several officially adopted policies of the City.

But then, when the environmentalists started whining (there was no whining, no invective, no personal attacks) at City Hall, commissioners choked and shriveled and backed off — delaying any work for three months and ordering city staffers to determine if they can preserve the trees and fix a persistent flooding problem in that short stretch of the sidewalk.

This is a small issue in the context of the city’s many issues (e.g. the funding of its $200 million-plus pension liabilities). But it’s extraordinary nonetheless. It’s yet another example of the incompetence and misplaced priorities that persists at City Hall.

Incompetence: The city staff and City Commission originally approved the relandscaping of this stretch of Palm Avenue two years ago. And yet, apparently, judging from what happened last week, no one on the city staff two years ago, or during any of the 20 or so public meetings regarding this, had the presence of mind to think about options for what should be done with the 26 90-year-old palm trees.(Only 6 or maybe 7 have been there that long, and it turns out they were planted in 1911. That's right, the oldest known landscaping in the downtown was going to be shipped to the landfill because no one cared enough to explore their provenance. More on these historic trees in another posting.)

That seems rather incredulous, especially in this community, where the environmentalists are usually all over any threat to a sprig of grass, and city staffers in turn typically are in tune with whatever is environmentally PC.

An oversight? What were they thinking? As the cynical answer goes: Apparently, they weren’t. I agree with Editor Walsh here -- someone should have asked why no one had spoken on behalf of the trees. This is evidence that the City's system for informing city stakeholders of impending actions needs work.

Misplaced priorities: It is equally incredulous that the pressure from Sarasota environmentalist Jono Miller (and others)(make that dozens (or hundreds*) of others) apparently far outweighs the concerns and well being of the taxpayers whose properties front the swale and palm trees in question. The misplaced priority was concluding matching a parking garage landscape was more important than retaining trees (some VERY historic) in a public right of way.

They are taxpayers who have skin in the game. Their livelihoods are affected by what goes on in that stretch of Palm Avenue. Jono Miller has no skin in that game. He lives and works elsewhere. If the only meaning of skin in the game is a financial investment, perhaps. But I have a personal investment. I have been doing business in that building longer than any of the current tenants have been there. If you've ever watched  CNBC's "The Profit", you know from Marcus Lemonis that there is no direct correlation between the ego of shop-owners and their commercial success. Who's to say they know what's best for the city?

More important, those property owners and businesses fronting that section of the street have been paying taxes year after year after year after year. The adjacent owners  don't own those trees -- they belong to all Sarasotans. And maybe their taxes paid to re-pave my cul de sac. And they presume, reasonably, that a portion of those taxes would entitle them to the expectation that the city 1) would maintain the trees in the city property — at least to help to control the rats; (okay, the rats are there because they dine in the alley behind a number of Sarasota's finest restaurants. Killing trees to address rat problems is madness. The City does not have the funds to routinely maintain all right-of-way vegetation -- perhaps the Observer would like to raise taxes to make that possible??) and 2) would take steps to eliminate the flooding that the swale causes on the sidewalk in front of the businesses. (Point taken. To quote CSNY : "shoulda been done long ago")

Who or what is more important: people who contribute to the community every day in labor, volunteerism, economic vitality and taxes? Or 26 90-year-old palm trees that serve as a haven for rats? I am one of the people who contribute every day in terms of labor, volunteerism, economic vitality and taxes to the City of Sarasota. I chose to shop and dine there (and not at Lakewood Ranch or the Interstate Mall). I was serving on a city advisory board a third of a century before this project started.

Perhaps it’s a blessing that Commissioners Paul Caragiulo and Shannon Snyder are moving off the commission. Two fewer flip-floppers to deal with, leaving only three more to displace.

Meantime, here’s an idea for what should be done to preserve the 26 palms on Palm Avenue: Transplant them to Jono Miller’s front yard. Ad hominem arguments are always appealing cheap shots. Many editors choose to avoid them because of their inappropriateness. 

Overall, this editorial does a great job of parroting the arguments advanced by some members of the Downtown Improvement District board, while ignoring any contrary evidence or facts. The important exception is that this editorial raises the same point I did in my Sarasota Herald Tribune guest column -- that someone in City Government should have wondered why no one was objecting to killing more than two dozen mature, healthy, native trees on a high profile street. The silence should have been deafening.
* The following blog posting has been read over 180 times. I suppose it could have been the same person viewing it 180 times, but the more likely reality is that the depth of support for these trees goes far beyond what some can imagine.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to comment. Anonymous comments will not be posted. Others will be screened for appropriateness, but not position.